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Will Pickvance And Friends
Published on Friday, 06 August 2010

3.5 stars

St John's Church (venue website)
6 - 29 Aug (not 9, 16, 23), 11:00pm (1:00am)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Have you ever been to one of those secret musicians’ haunts – the ones where everybody brings an instrument, and every so often they just get up to play?  No, me neither.  But Will Pickvance And Friends comes tantalizingly close to recreating that mythical vibe – and though it didn’t quite kick off the night I was there, it still might shape up into a fine after-party to round off a day at the Fringe.

It’s a familiar format, of course: the eponymous Mr Pickvance comperes the event from the piano, throwing out a few numbers of his own and inviting his house band and guests to join him on stage.  It’s a pleasingly eclectic programme – and nobody illustrated that better than classical violinist Feargus Hetherington, a less-than-obvious choice whose up-close virtuosity instantly captivated everyone in the room.  He’s a regular on the programme so, with luck, you’ll get to hear him too.

Most of the music had a folkier feel, with guests Tom Oakes (flute) and Normal MacKay (accordion) offering a good few foot-tapping numbers – yet taking me to some quieter, more reflective places as well.  But the brightest limelight fell on Gavin Bolus, whose delicately bawdy vaudeville was a welcome counterpoint.  His Rose Street Rose was stuffed with audacious rhymes and Edinburgh history, while his press-ganged participation in “helium karaoke” (don’t try it at home) was a moment of comedy magic.

I have to say, though, there was an odd feel to the session; the first few sets were greeted with the reverence of a classical music concert, when the right approach was simply to kick back and enjoy.  Given that there were a half-dozen performers in the room waiting to take their turn on the stage, I was surprised they didn’t do a bit more to get the party started with vocal appreciation of each other’s work.  But the main problem, I think, was that this special preview show was just too early in the evening; in its normal slot at 11pm, we can safely assume there’ll be fewer inhibitions to overcome.

The acoustics aren’t great in St John’s crypt, and the layout of the place doesn’t do them a huge number of favours either.  But for all those weaknesses, I’ve a sneaky suspicion this one’s going to prove a success; if you’ve run out of shows to see but you’re not ready to go home, Will Pickvance offers a stand-out alternative to the usual late-night Fringe fare.  And don’t be too quick to leave: sneakily hanging around after we media types were meant to have packed up and gone home, I eavesdropped on the musicians as they improvised something wonderful around Kum-by-ya.  I can’t help think that it’s the unofficial after-hour sessions when the real magic’s going to occur.

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